Saturday, September 20, 2014

Love Triangle(s) in Nirvana in Fire?

Top Left to Right: Prince Jing + Lady Liu, Prince Jing + Princess Nihuang
Bottom Left to Right: Mei Changsu+Gong Yu, Princess Nihuang + Mei Changsu

One of the  burning questions for those who are unfamiliar with the story of Nirvana in Fire is whether the drama adaptation will expand on the romance element. Specifically, will a love triangle exist between the three main leads, Mei Changsu (Hu Ge), Princess Nihuang (Liu Tao), and Prince Jing (Wang Kai)? How faithful will the production team remain to the novel? Will they spice things up to attract female viewers?
Conceptual equation of my most anticipated pairing
My simple answer to the love triangle question is "Heck No." Shandong Film and TV is not Yu Zheng Number 2. Like Legend of Zhen Huan, the screenwriter and the original author of Nirvana in Fire remains the same person. The production team purposely hired the original author to write the screenplay for the drama adaptation. One thing I notice that will probably differentiate from the original novel is the de-emphasis of "boy-boy love." There is no love triangle between the three main leads. Prince Jing does not love Princess Nihuang. Nihuang only loves her childhood betrothed, Mei Changsu. Mei Changsu does reciprocate Nihuang's feelings. Period.

Oh, I also failed to mention that Mei Changsu has an beautiful underling named Gong Yu who has a huge crush on her boss. Fortunately, or unfortunately, she never confesses and her boss pretends he doesn't know. I guess we can technically say a quasi love triangle exists between Mei Changsu, Nihuang, and Gong Yu.

What about Prince Jing? Well...romance doesn't quite figure much this guy's life. In the story, the woman whom he interacts with the most is his biological mother. LOL. This doesn't necessarily mean there are no women in his private life. We cannot dismiss the fact that it would be unrealistic to have a 31-year old unmarried prince in imperial China. So through another character's voice, we learned that Prince Jing was married with a principal consort and two concubines, but has not fathered any children.  His principal consort died many years before the story even began. The two concubines are practically non-existent in the story too. Prince Jing never talks about them and neither does the author say much. I get the feeling all the women in Prince Jing's life were arranged by his father. We watched many royal fairy-tales of love in ancient dramas, but the reality could never escape the fact that marriages of princes and princesses in dynastic China were political chess pieces for the emperor.

But there is one political marriage I am looking forward to watch in Nirvana in Fire. Although it densely packed with political machinations and brotherly camaraderie, Nirvana in Fire cannot be completely devoid of romance.  One very very very minor character that has been slightly expanded from the original novel is Prince Jing's second wife, Lady Liu. In the original novel, Lady Liu has almost no "screen time," meaning she physically shows up in less than 1% of the novel and has a two-sentence dialogue with Prince Jing. Her role in the novel is merely summed in the narration. Because of such little "screen time" in the novel, I did not expect this character to even show up in the drama. As you can probably tell with this rant, I was absolutely ecstatic when I found out Lady Liu will be featured in the drama.

Despite her insignificance, I still want to see how Lady Liu will play out on screen. I am quite happy with the casting decision. The actress who plays Lady Liu is a fresh face that fits the sweet damsel to be paired with Prince Jing.  The costume department designed at least three outfits for this role. The number outfits indirectly confirms Lady Liu will have at least three scenes in the drama.  I confess I have very minimum expectation for their character. In a 55-episode series, I suspect her screen time will not exceed 30 minutes. Please let me be wrong.
Girlhood Outfit
Crown Princess Outfit?
Empress’ Outfit
To show how little Lady Liu is figured in the original novel, the following is a list of all the "scenes" that contained her name:

1) Prince Jing tells political strategist, Mei Changsu, he just saved a young girl at a monastery who happens to the granddaughter of a prominent Head of Secretariat Liu and asked if Mei Changsu was the mastermind behind this "hero saved damsel-in-distress" scheme. Mei Changsu replies "Do you think I'm demi-god?"

2) After being designated as crown prince, Prince Jing is arranged by the Emperor to marry Secretariat Liu's granddaughter, the young girl whom he probably forgot he saved. Prince Jing doesn't feel too excited about the political marriage and requests a simple wedding ceremony.

3) Due an official mourning period, the newly wedded Prince Jing and his young bride must wait 100 days before they can officially "share" a chamber together. As crown princess, Lady Liu wakes up early in the morning to visit her husband's chamber and help him get dressed. Prince Jing and Lady Liu are still quite awkward with each other despite being "married." The shy young bride feels a little intimated by Prince Jing.

4) A very pregnant crown princess keeps her husband company in his study as he writes the names of soldiers who died in combat.

5) The young crown princess gives birth to a little prince. When Prince Jing becomes the new emperor, she is entitled the new empress.

Based on the above summary, I deduced that Prince Jing and his second wife gets a long pretty well in spite of the initial awkwardness.  In a way, Lady Liu's obscurity and weak presence in the novel gives the director and screenwriter more creative freedom to elaborate in the TV production. And it definitely leaves much room for my own personal imagination! LOL. 

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